A Tale of Two Bridges


Came across this meaningful story in the ZeroMQ documentation… http://hintjens.com/blog:16

Two old engineers were talking of their lives and boasting of their greatest projects. One of the engineers explained how he had designed the largest bridge ever made.

“We built it across a river gorge,” he told his friend. “It was wide and deep. We spent two years studying the land, and choosing designs. Then we hired the best people and designed the bridge, which took another five years. We contracted the largest engineering firms to build the structures, the towers, the tollbooths, and the roads that would connect the bridge to the main highways. Under the road level we had trains, and a special path for cyclists. That bridge represented years of my life.”

The second man reflected for a while, then spoke. “One evening me and a friend threw a rope across a gorge,” he said. “Just a rope, tied to two trees. There were two villages, one at each side. At first, people pulled packages across that rope with a pulley and string. Then someone pulled across a second rope, and built a foot walk. It was dangerous, but the kids loved it. A group of men then rebuilt that, made it solid, and women started to cross, everyday, with their produce. A market grew up on one side of the bridge, and slowly that became a large town, since there was a lot of space for houses. The rope bridge got replaced with a wooden bridge, to allow horses and carts to cross. Then the town built a real stone bridge, with metal beams. Later, they replaced the stone part with steel, and today there’s a suspension bridge standing in that same spot.”

The first engineer was silent. “Funny thing,” he said, “my bridge was demolished not long after it was built. Turns out it was built in the wrong place and no-one wanted to use it. Some bastard had thrown a rope across the gorge, a few miles further downstream, and that’s where everyone went.”

I’ve encountered this many times, and it’s not just about programming. There was a time where I was going to be the definitive music store in Singapore, and I sunk in a huge amount of money (for me at that time) into goods and websites and all that. What I failed to do was to even test whether there was a demand for the particular goods I imported here locally. I found out that hard way that most Singaporeans are pretty brand-conscious regarding music instruments/accessories. On hindsight, what I should have done was to “test” the products out by selling them on Qoo10.sg or some other online store before trying to import stuff wholesale to get a feel of the sale-ability of the items. There are other ways to test whether there is demand for your pro, duct, like running Facebook/Google ads to gauge the number of clicks. Frequently folks who start something are eager to sink money into it, as if throwing more money into something would increase the number of people who want it.

I’m an advocate of an iterative approach to things, so as not to waste too much resources on something that perhaps no one wanted in the first place.

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